27 January 2010

Off-Topic: High-Speed Rail and Obama

Indulge me, folks, for I finally can't restrain myself.

Some of you may know that I'm a railroad writer and historian well before I'm a beer geek.  In fact, I'm supposed to be down at the Maryland Rail Heritage Library at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum doing some work today.

Well, my inbox overfloweth with people pointing out the following "news" from here and here and elsewhere:
President Barack Obama is planning to follow up his State of the Union address on Wednesday by awarding billions of dollars to develop a high-speed rail plan that he’ll promote as a jobs program, according to an Associated Press report.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be in Tampa for a town hall meeting where the $8 billion in stimulus funds will be announced.
Speculation is growing that Florida will be one of the recipients of funds due to the choice of Tampa as a locale for the announcement. Florida’s proposal is to create a high-speed rail connection between Orlando and Tampa, eventually expanding to include Miami.
Other contenders for the money include California’s proposal for an 800-mile-long rail line from Sacramento to San Diego, as well as a nine-state proposal in the Midwest, the AP reported.
Thirty-one states will receive funds.
Folks, here's reality:
The $8 billion was appropriated by your Congress last year.  This is on top of the annual $1 billion appropriation for Amtrak's operating expenses, plus additional for capital costs.  Obama in Florida is just a photo op.  Nothing new to see here.

I know what railroad lines of the nature of high-speed rail lines cost: approximately $5-10 million per route mile.  And that's once land has been acquired.  And that doesn't include rolling stock--the locomotives and cars.  The $8 billion proposed would just about pay for only the planning studies for the dozens of corridors proposed in the wake of that appropriation.  Any of these projects brought to fruition would have to see matching appropriations by the states involved, and with bankrupt California that's unlikely.  I have seen posts and comments responding to this news on various websites that breathlessly propose such things as trains from Dallas to Atlanta in one hour--a train averaging a speed that breaks the sound barrier.  Everyone wants their own pet corridor taken care of so they don't sit in traffic--and that's just not going to happen, even in the Northeast.

Many of my conservative friends sending this to me invoke the famous Simpsons episode from 1993, "Marge Vs. the Monorail":

I have a much better analogy:
Enjoying a brief six month run on NBC-TV, "Supertrain" has been noted as one of television's biggest disasters of all-time.  "Supertrain" was reportedly rushed into production, cost the network a fortune, and failed miserably in the ratings.
Pray that history isn't repeating itself here.

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